Climate Change

Page - February 8, 2010
It is common knowledge that we are facing a climate crisis and that the choices we make today will determine the fate or our planet. However, little attention has been paid to one of the most important contributors to climate change: agricultural production and consumption.

According to recent carbon footprint analysis, the complete cycle of global meat production alone accounts for about 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the entire chain of food production and consumption accounting for 20 percent.

Agriculture Contributors:

  • Land conversion and plowing releases large amounts of stored carbon as CO2 from vegetation and soils. About 50 percent of the world's surface land area has been converted to land for grazing and crop cultivation resulting in a loss of more than half of the world's forests. Deforestation and forest degradation releases carbon through the decomposition of aboveground biomass and peat fires and decay of drained peat soils.
  • Carbon dioxide and particulate matter are emitted from fossil fuels used to power farm machinery, irrigation pumps, and for drying grain, etc., as well as fertilizer and pesticide production.
  • Nitrogen fertilizer applications and manure applications as well as decomposition of agricultural wastes results in emissions of nitrous oxide.
  • Methane is released through livestock digestive processes and rice production.
  • Altered radiative fluxes and evaporation from newly bare soils.
  • Increased geographical distance between producer and consumer, together with regional agricultural specialization, has resulted in greater energy use for transportation.

Different agricultural systems vary enormously in their respective global warming impacts.  Generally, small-scale, agroecological farming and consumption systems producing for local markets at low levels of processing and packaging have substantially less global warming impacts than large-scale commodity production for global markets.

Steps to Reduce Climate Change

A continued rise of meat production would be the single most important contributor to further global warming from agriculture and could hardly be offset by other measures. The good news is that soils can actually sequester carbon long-term, so agriculture is one of the only economic sectors with the potential to reduce rather than increase human greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide. Reducing these greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the long-term storage of carbon in the soil are essential measures to prevent a climate catastrophe.

Learn More

Cool farming

Food security and climate briefing

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